Arguably the first masterplan for the city of Beijing came as a result of the Yongle Emperor’s decision to move his capital there from Nanjing. In 1406 he began construction of the Forbidden City, a project that would require a million workers and take 14 years to come to fruition.
In more recent times, China’s capital has published at least six blueprints for its urban future. A more recent document, Beijing Overall Urban Planning (2004-2020), was approved by the State Council with a view to turning Beijing not only into an international city but a “highly liveable” one.
But key decisionmakers have made plain that targets set by the plan have been missed. The city’s former mayor Wang Anshun told state media in 2015 that Beijing remained “unliveable” because of its noxious smog. Another of the blueprint’s most quantifiable targets – capping the population below 18 million – was exceeded in 2010.
So planners have put together another new version, and no one could quibble about a lack of input. This time more than 3,000 experts took three years to compile the review, with “seven major rounds of rewriting” employed before all were satisfied. Last week Xinhua published the fruits of their labours – Beijing Overall Urban Planning (2016-2035) – which this time takes a 20-year view.
The primary objectives, Xinhua says, have similarities with the earlier 2004 plan of making Beijing “a first-class harmonious and liveable capital by 2035”.
However, new goals have been added to disperse “non-capital functions” from the city and to solve urban problems including an overcrowded downtown and widespread air pollution. The government promises air quality will “reach advanced international standards by 2050” and it says the population of long-term residents is to be no higher than 23 million by 2020 (there are currently more than 21 million people living in Beijing).
In another sign that planners are giving more importance to preserving the capital’s heritage, the 60,000-word document includes stipulations that “the Old City cannot shrink any further”, which suggests that the surviving historic buildings and alleys, or hutong, are likely to be protected.
Many of Beijing’s functions will be shifted to the Xiongan New Area, a move that is being described by state media as “the major historic and strategic choice” of President Xi Jinping and one that – perhaps like the construction of the Forbidden City – will be “crucial for a millennium to come” (see WiC361).
While policy planners want to slow down the spread of Beijing’s urban sprawl, the media reports that the New Area has been growing quickly over the past six months. Some of the reporting sounds unconvincing (“Not many things appear to have changed but a lot of changes are taking place behind the scenes at what is being called ‘Xiongan speed’,” Securities Times notes) and a reporter from 21CN Business Herald who revisited Xiongan six months after the plan was first announced in April focused mostly on the political slogans that are being pasted across the district.
Property transactions have been placed under strict oversight by local authorities. However, 21CN notes that rental prices have still surged by a multiple of three over the last six months, on surging demand from employees of firms planning to set up shop in China’s new auxiliary capital.
Rongcheng, one of the three small counties which comprise Xiongan, is already home to what the media terms “SOE Street”. The corporate signage of several dozen state-owned enterprises are now visible, including the major state banks and construction firms. Most of these offices are still works in progress but 21CN says a lot of state-employed staff are already stationed in Xiongan.
No figures have been released on how much the state firms have paid for their coveted plots on “SOE Street”, which looks certain to be the heart of the new CBD. However, one of the huge banners in the area exhorts newcomers: “To resolutely resist speculation in real estate.”
China Daily reports that the vision for Xiongan is very different from other cities in China and it quotes Chen Gang, the director of the Xiongan New Area administrative committee, as saying that 70% of the new ‘eco’ city will be covered with lakes and trees.
In fact, Chen promises that there will be no “concrete jungle” in Xiongan. And who knows: given the new district has Xi Jinping’s explicit approval it may mean that this latest development blueprint has a better chance of being put into practice than its predecessors…
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